Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Parallel Learning: Assignment 2d- THE CORPORATION

Parallel Learning 2d

As part of my Industrial Design studio at UNSW, I recently had the chance to watch the documentary film, The Corporation.  Though you get to hear all the time in the news of "evil" corporations such as Enron and the various stock market thieves of Wall Street, I didn't completely comprehend the severity of the present-day meaning behind the term "corporation" until I watched the film and learned of the many scenarios that have been underway for quite some time in society.  While many companies will obviously claim to be doing what they're doing for the greater good, for the people's benefit, to make the streets safer, etc., there are indeed serious questions in many cases as to whether or not corporations do the things that they do (and buy out or privatise the things that they do) for the greater good, or instead for their own good.

The Pfizer scenario, for example, rings some serious alarms in my mind.  When Tom (the spokesperson) tries to call the Pfizer-employed security guard who is supposedly less than 500 meters away, no one answers.  When he tries again, using another call station, no one answers.  What does this say about the privatisation of products and services in the subway, or, for that matter, the "benefits" that Pfizer claims are coming from corporate ownership of things that used to be the transit authority's responsibility?  Tom claims that Pfizer is making the neighborhood into a better place, but it certainly doesn't seem so in the video.  Even Pfizer's implementation of special toll booths in the subway that you "can't jump over" seems like a bad idea to me.  What happens if there's an emergency and someone can't get through the toll booth area (and, as mentioned before, you can't call for help because the Pfizer guard doesn't answer)?  As the corporation of Pfizer controls more and more of the assets in the subway, they promise better and better things for the community, though it would only seem that it means better and better things for Pfizer, making a profit from the ownership.  The last nuance on this topic that seemed very out of place to me from the video was the fact that calling the Pfizer guard at the guard station (not even located in the subway) would in turn lead to the Pfizer guard calling the authorities.  Why, then, is there this middle man, when you could just as easily call the police directly?  Since virtually everyone today has a cell phone in their hand, in combination with the fact that the Pfizer employee is unresponsive at best, it seems illogical to call the Pfizer guard when doing so will only take longer to reach the same means as calling the police yourself.

After seeing and thinking about the Pfizer scenario in terms of the earlier claims in the video that "some people believe that soon everything in society will be privatised and owned...including the very genes that make up human beings", I begin to understand where the makers of the film are coming from--this is a very legitimate fear.  Especially when you take the historical context into account, in which early corporations argued themselves to be "persons", thereby claiming protection of property under the 14th Amendment (designed in the U.S. to protect freedmen and former slaves), it seems that corporations can get away with nearly anything, so long as no single person is to blame for any crime the company commits.  And while companies DO provide many great products and services to us that benefit our daily lives, it becomes a very scary notion that these "persons" removed from morality can do just about anything and take just about any action so long as there are laws that they can bend and lawyers who can make clever arguments.  The scariest historical part of the matter, to me, is that over 200 companies filed claims under the 14th Amendment in court whereas only 19 freedmen used their new-found rights.  What does this say about the United States--or any country that follows this economic model--when a law is designed to do one thing and then the purpose is completely corrupted by corporations for private profit, not to mention that the Supreme Court would simply go along with such ridiculous transgressions!

And while the incentive of profit through the free market is what certainly drives many economies of the world today, it's difficult to listen to stories in The Corporation of shady business practices (aimed solely at making a profit) when the idea behind a corporation--a body of people given the right to function by the people, for the people--was initially to do one service for the community so long as that service was needed, and that was it.  Nowadays it seems that businessmen are willing to go to any length to make the extra dollar, including the scenario described in which an undercover spy pretends to be hiring someone from another company, offering to pay more than what they are currently making with their salary at the other company.  In return for trusting the business spy, the person who thinks he might be hired is given nothing in return but the uncertainty of his current job in the future, as the aforementioned spy in essence takes whatever information he can get about the other company's business practices from the one being duped.  When profit seems to be the only real incentive today to many people, it's not hard to imagine that spies like this exist, but what does it say about the free market when people have become so corrupt in their corporations that they are willing to lie and cheat just in order to stay one step ahead (and perhaps even cut the throats of competitors)?  This doesn't seem at all like "a body of people functioning with the people's consent to provide a service to the people so long as that service is required."  To me, it sounds more like a world in which companies do whatever they can to sell to consumers, even throwing competitors under the bus in order to do so, and the quality of the services that companies do for consumers is now second to making a profit, even if it means producing lower quality products.

And, finally, though The Corporation does mention that many CEOs get a bad rapport on illegitimate grounds--meaning they in fact do care about the environment, the individual consumer, and the people working in their factories--it's difficult to take any CEO as trustworthy when you hear the comments that people like Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, say on camera.  How can you trust a corporation's leader (or the corporation itself, for that matter) when the CEO makes statements and plans for his factories when he is completely out of touch with those places and the people who work in them?  Having never even been to Indonesia or seen the workers and the effects of their low wages on their daily lives, it becomes clear that nothing in the corporation is as important to him as making a profit, and thus spending time in Indonesian factories is a waste of time.  That is, until tennis comes into the matter, in one of my personal favorite parts of the entire film: wealth and personal profit (of any kind) are the only factors important to this CEO, as interviewer Michael Moore discovers, as Knight invites Moore to the Australian Open, in which "possibly" there "might be" time to "maybe" swing by Indonesia on the way home.  Wow.

Absurd wealth seems to be the only motivation for these immoral "persons" (corporations) and the actual people who run the corporations under these pretenses, and I think it's about time that the laws changed.  Though it will always be controversial to allow the government to move into the economic sector and make heavy regulations (limiting the sense of "freedom" in the free market), the status quo stands for a system in which good business practices and good design for the better of the world are not worth it any more; the best way to get rich at present (or even just ensure a permanent living) is to do the wrong thing and take advantage of the weaknesses of the law on these matters.  Why do the right thing when you can take advantage of the system and get rich?  I know that there are many good designers, good business leaders, and good companies in the world today, but at the very least the fact that "evil" corporations like these are allowed to do as they please without action from the law (and sometimes even protection from the law) is a serious demotivator for people who are trying to change the world for the better, and if we're all committed to a healthier market model and a healthier world, something has to change lest these immoral monolithic "persons" take us all down with them.

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